The Oregon Historical Society has named author Michael
Helquist the recipient of the 2016 Joel Palmer Award for the best article
published in the previous year. Helquist’s article, “”Criminal Operations”: The
First Fifty Years of Abortion Trials in Portland, Oregon,” appeared in the
Spring 2015 issue of the Oregon
Historical Quarterly. The annual prize carries with it a $300 award which
will be presented during the annual meeting of OHS on May 21.
“Criminal Operations” presents original research that
documents every abortion trial conducted in Portland and reported in the Oregonian from 1870-1920 (27 in all).
Helquist’s study reveals two significant factors that hindered prosecutions and
thwarted convictions: a lack of sufficient evidence peculiar to abortion cases
and the ambiguities of the abortion law itself. Prosecutors obtained
convictions in only 7 of the 27 cases.
Helquist remarked in an interview, “Oregon’s anti-abortion
law thrust into the public realm an inherently private and personal matter
involving a woman and her provider. It was seldom a good mix for anyone
involved.” He noted that physicians were reluctant to cooperate with the law,
concerned with their professional prerogatives; prosecutors wrestled with the
“intent” of providers and of patients; and women feared the public humiliation
that might result from a trial.
One of the few doctors to provide abortions in Portland was
Marie Equi, whose skill and discretion prompted other doctors to refer their
patients to her (and allow her to assume the risk). Oregon State University
Press published Helquist’s biography of Equi, “Marie Equi, Radical Politics and
Outlaw Passions,” in September 2015. Her efforts for women’s rights and the
struggle to obtain reproductive services are featured in the biography. The
American Library Association named Marie
Equi a 2016 Stonewall Honor Book for Non Fiction.
Helquist’s full article about “Criminal Operations” is
available here: http://www.ohs.org/research-and-library/oregon-historical-quarterly/joel-palmer-award/upload/Helquist_Criminal-Operations_OHQ-116_1_Spring-2015_p.pdf
The OHS 2016 Joel Palmer Award announcement is available here: http://www.ohs.org/research-and-library/oregon-historical-quarterly/joel-palmer-award/2016-joel-palmer-award.cfm